Hey, my name is David and I am addicted to fear.
Allow me to preamble my introduction by saying that I have actively been avoiding writing this blog entry. I have, and will continue to be, cognizant of my past and the avenues that my addiction has dragged me down, kicking and screaming. The fear of confronting those scary store fronts in the ghetto of my past, and accepting them to be part of my testimony, is what often holds me back. More often than not, the fear rules, even on the other side of my addiction. So bear with me through my grammatical misfeasance and numerous run-on sentences as I recall the darkest parts of my sordid history.
My name is David Silvernale, I grew up in Prescott, Arizona. I went to Prescott High School where I was an unremarkable student. I wasn’t incredibly smart, AP classes were not my forte, nor was I remanded to the remedial classes. I was a likable enough socialite, I had friends in seemingly every group and ‘click’. I didn’t really party that much, and never had a problem with addiction. That isn’t to say I didn’t party; there was at least one notable incident where my friends and I were caught with enough alcohol to make the cast of Mad Men blush. I did, however, grow up in fear. Fear of everything. Especially at home.
I was afraid to disappoint my parents, as expectations were always set seemingly on the highest shelf. Caution had proved the best route to avoid a lecture or being yelled at. I was afraid of going to sleep, I was afraid of getting sick, I was afraid of quite literally everything. I had an overprotective mother and a father obsessed with work. I am not sure how far we need to delve into the vast amount of Psychology books to determine the inherent need to please a father who is the all-knowing leader of the family, nor do we need to explain the pressures of the ever-worried mother and the stress that transfers to the offspring. I do need to note, though, that the love my parents had/have for me has never been questioned. Never has a father or mother loved their son so much.
Saying such, I grew up in a Baptist Church where I was beholden to the biblical and social constructs of right and wrong. Like many fervent religious institutions, there was a certain strictness and thus, the inherent capability to ‘rebel’. Aside from my extensive knowledge of all the biblical stories and the teachings of Jesus, I grew up bathed in confidence, self-assuredness, and a healthy self-image. I was always dressed in the best, and I drove all the coolest cars. I didn’t play any sports for our school, but I was always active. I grew up snow skiing in Colorado and Northern California. I was a frequent and avid boater at Lake Powell where a myriad of water sports were participated in regularly. I always loved to play golf, and I was always involved in one project or another on the weekends. I was very active. Regardless of the multiple popped collars and expensive auto collection, deep down, a healthy amount of fear was simmering and quickly coming to a boil.
After graduating from Prescott High School, I attended New Mexico Military Institute. It was there that I learned our core beliefs of Duty, Honor and Achievement. I attended this Junior College as a Legacy Cadet, as my Father, Uncle and Cousins had also attended in the previous years and decades. I excelled in every aspect of military life. I won prestigious awards regularly. I was selected to command a Troop of roughly 120 cadets at the start of my second year and was promoted to Captain. I made an excellent leader, as I realized that you must be an excellent follower in order to lead with excellence. I learned to use the fear I had of everything to prepare myself for anything, and in this segregated environment I excelled. But then I graduated and re-entered the normal world where I answered to parents, yet again, instead of my Commanding Officers. The fear started to re-emerge.
I was attending Texas Tech University, and was under a great amount of stress when fear started to take control. I was in a major that I had no interest in; my father assured me that if he was paying for it, his approval of my major was needed. During this time, I was hit with an intense amount of family drama that I would rather remain private. Regardless, the outcome of the drama only spurred my decision to enlist in Active Duty Military Service upon my graduation. I made the decision to run from my fear and my stress, and literally beat it out of my body and into submission by training for war. For two years I trained every single day. I ran 10 miles a day (on average), swam 3000 meters, and lifted every single day. All while under immense amounts of stress. Little did I know I was preparing for a different kind of war. I was about a month away from graduating and shipping off to start my Active Duty Training when I was walking to class, and I collapsed. Out of nowhere. Just fell straight on my ass. I couldn’t feel my entire left leg and most of my right leg. I refused to let that stop me.
Regardless of the terrifying pain, I crutched around for a few weeks until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went to the doctor, got an MRI and they said I needed surgery immediately or there was a very strong chance I would be paralyzed.
I flew home to Prescott and met with a surgeon. He said that the damage was severe. He told me that I had Degenerative Disc Disease and that the amount of training I was doing coupled with my active lifestyle since high school had damaged most of my Lumbar Vertebrae. I vividly remember being shown my MRI in the unremarkable off-white office; as the surgeon pointed out four extruded discs and portions of my Sciatic Nerve that were not even visible; I was told that I needed to come to terms with the fact that my life would likely be changed forever. At the very least, I would need to walk with a cane for the rest of my life, as well as physical therapy for the foreseeable future. I had no choice if I didn’t want to end up paralyzed, so we scheduled the surgery for the end of the week. I had no idea how to even begin processing the fact that I was 3.2% body fat, could run miles around everybody I knew, and was prepared to go to war…to now being just shy of paralyzed and about to be cut open, all at 25 years old.
After that surgery I was sent home with enough pain medication to last 2 weeks. I was given one 15mg Oxycodone every 6 hours, and a muscle relaxer to take as needed. After the two weeks supply ran out, only taking the medication as prescribed, I called the surgeon and said that I was still in intense pain and I needed more. At this point I was not addicted to the pain meds, I had just had a major surgery and my body was telling me that I needed more relief from the pain.
Fast forward to 9 months after surgery, no more pills, still the exact same amount of pain and no better mobility. I called the surgeon back, only to talk to his PA, and demanded to know why I was still in this much pain. I found out the surgeon had done only a fraction of the amount of surgery he told me he would be performing. He did a partial discectomy of my L4/5 disc (I should have filed a malpractice suit against him). Disheartened, I didn’t know what to do. I was 25 years old with one back surgery and no relief, no betterment of my symptoms. My fear was boiling over.
I figured that I should forgo the way of the small-town surgeon and go talk to the heavy hitters in the big city. I made an appointment with Barrows Neurological Center in Phoenix, Arizona. After more X-Ray’s and MRI’s, as well as a nerve conduction test that I cannot remember the medical term for, it was confirmed that I was no better off than I was before the first surgery. My Sciatic Nerve was so severely pinched by my extruded discs that I was registering 19% nerve conductivity in my left leg and 47% in my right leg. Finally, after the seemingly endless batteries of tests, I saw an actual big city surgeon. I was told the Barrows Neurological Center officially recommends that I undergo pain management for at least 1 year to see if my symptoms lighten and condition improves. For those of you who do not know exactly what that means, the surgeon wanted me to live on pain killers for no less than 1 year before they would even re-evaluate me. They were weary of cutting into such a young back for a second time.
My fear had nearly consumed me at this point.
About a month later, and thanks to God’s impeccable timing, my father met a surgeon by pure happenstance. I walked out, as my father was talking to this surgeon about my condition and my experiences with the first surgeon. Unable to stand up straight, nor able to feel the toes on my left foot, I ambled toward the huddled group my father was in. Upon introducing myself and regaling our newfound surgeon friend with my comical yet tragic tale of botched surgery, idiotic medical advice and down right despair, the surgeon gave me a little shred of hope by telling me to come and meet him at his office in two days’ time.
Not expecting much, I went into the surgeon’s office early on a Wednesday morning and to my surprise, he not only had a plan of action to help get my spine back to operating order, but he apologized for the first surgeon’s malfeasance. He told me that he would like to continue the discectomies that the first surgeon should have completed, as well as perform laminectomies on my L-1/2 Vertebrae down to my L4/5 Vertebrae, put spacers in place of the extruded discs, fuse my spine from L2 down to my Sacrum as well as install 6 screws and 2 rods to hold everything in place. He informed me that his best hopes were to regain 25-30% of my mobility but that I would likely be in pain forever and would need pain killers for the rest of my life. He asked how my pain level was and I told him it was through the roof, as I was quite literally in both tears of joy and pain. He prescribed me 60 mg of Oxycodone (2 – 30 mg pills) every 4 hours. Finally, I was happy. I was happy that somebody understood the pain I was in and that something was going to be done about it. A plan of action was underway. I was on this dose of painkillers for about 2 months as we couldn’t schedule the surgery any sooner. I remember going to the pharmacy to fill my first script and the pharmacist didn’t even bother to put the pills into one bottle, they just gave me two bottles of 100 pills each (200 total) straight from the manufacturer. I remember looking down at the bottles I held in my hands and thinking, “my life is over; I will never come back from this, these will kill me…but at least I won’t be in pain.” At that moment I knew that I was addicted.
I would love for this story to take a dramatic, up-beat turn, like we are all used to in the movies that we watch and love. But it doesn’t. I feel deeper. The fear got thicker and harder to ignore. I ended up needing a third surgery to free the, yet again, pinched nerves that were originally freed during the second surgery. Only to find out that they were severely and permanently damaged. I tried everything along with the pills; physical therapy, 11 epidurals, 7 medial nerve blockers, 5 different rounds of oral and intramuscular steroids, all to no avail. My mind was made up; I gave in to the fear and ultimately gave my heart to the drugs. They were the only thing that made me feel better. They masked my physical pain as well as my emotional pain from the fear. The fear became comfortable, it became warm and the only thing I could rely on.
It didn’t take long until I couldn’t recognize myself and who I had become; that is not some cliché turn of phrase. I literally had no idea who I was. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, so I avoided them. I didn’t care about fancy designer clothes or expensive cars. I only cared about getting more of the drugs I’d become so accustomed to. So I went to any and all lengths to get them. I would manipulate anyone and everyone in my path. I ruined countless friendships of close friends and families; I burnt every bridge I could sprint across. I was ruled by fear. The fear of running out of pills, the fear of what I would do next to get them. I found myself living in the body and a mind of a stranger. Why did I even learn about Duty, Honor and Achievement? The only duty I felt was to continue feeding my fear and I certainly had no honor. Achievement? The only thing I was achieving was surprising myself with each twisted turn into a new depth of despair.
I wanted to change, I wanted to be the person I was. But at this point I was too afraid to face the pain. I was complacent in my misery and I had accepted that fact.
I halfheartedly made efforts to change, I worked for my father doing something “I loved”. I was good at it, but I certainly didn’t care. The only thing I truly cared about was my next pill. At this point, my parents knew I had a problem but that I couldn’t live without them, because I had legitimate pain. So, they became my pharmacy. They held onto my pills and gave them to me daily. Now I had the fear of not only being without my pain pills, but the fear of yet again disappointing the ONLY lifeline I had left…my parents. It was a vicious cycle. I worked 80-hour weeks and was in a mentally toxic work relationship with my father. The more I worked, the more pills I needed and the more pills I needed, the more I worked. I began supplementing my prescription by buying pills off the street.
Before I knew it, my addiction had reached an all-time high, or rather, a staggeringly profound low. What went from two 30mg Oxy’s every 4 hours, quickly turned into four 30 mg Oxy’s every 4 hours. And then four turned into eight. As I began rationalizing the need for three times my prescribed dosage, a justification aligned immediately that allowed me to ‘fire at will.’ I was taking eight to ten 30 mg Oxy’s every chance I got; I no longer stood on the ceremony of waiting an allotted amount of time between the handfuls of pills I was shoveling into my body. On average, I was taking 1,500 mg a day and still holding down a full-time job. I managed to get my hands on whatever oxycodone I could find. I justified it and rationalized it however I needed to, “I need more pills to perform so I don’t let my dad down.” That was the most logical reason I could muster up to justify my abhorrent behavior.
I finally reached a breaking point. I had knowingly been buying oxycodone that was cut with fentanyl which quickly just became straight fentanyl pills. A little over a year ago, one of my best friends died. He was a big brother to me, and a mentor. He was a decorated combat veteran who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I found out he died because of an overdose due to fentanyl, it stopped me in my tracks. It was one of the hardest things I have had to deal with, as it hit so close to home. I saw myself in him, and he saw himself in me, as he often told me how good of a person I was regardless of my struggles in life. And I had no idea that he struggled with addiction. That was the turning point for me. As much as I loved this incredibly strong and brave man, I didn’t want to end up like him. I didn’t want fear to snuff out the tiny glimmer of hope that I had, if I still had any left.
So I went to a detox facility, then to an inpatient rehab facility. I got the help I needed to make my life something that I could be proud of, something that my family could be proud of and something that my future wife and children could be proud of. As the saying goes: “It is a wise man who learns from others’ mistakes.” If I had the chance to go back and tell myself one, and only one, thing, I would tell my younger, more afraid self this: change the lens through which you see and experience fear. Life is just as hard on this side of sobriety as it is on the side of addiction. But when you choose to use the fear, when you choose to engage possibility and hope, you stop counting the days of your sobriety and start counting the blessing that each moment beholds. I still have stress and anxiety, but what I have now is the knowledge to overcome those things. It is different for everybody, but I meditate daily, dive into a daily devotional, and am in constant communication with God. The body is a resilient and wonderful machine, fabricated flawlessly with the world’s most powerful computer in control of it. If I would have known the power of the brain and the restorative, regenerative computer code that can fix our bodies…who knows how many heartaches I could have prevented, including my own.
As much as addiction is a disease, I do believe it is also a choice. I made the choice to submerse my fear, wash it off, clean it up, and use it. I made the decision to use my fear, to face my pain, to remind myself that I am alive…that I am not beyond hope; that I am not beyond redemption. I used my fear to turn the tides of unbalance in my heavy heart and start living with hope, purpose, and possibility.
I turned the fear into my weapon, I turned the fear into my greatest asset. For the only thing I fear now, is not being addicted to a chemical or a pill, but being without hope, without human connection, and without possibility. I fear forgetting what it is to know the meaning of Duty, Honor, and Achievement.
My name is David, and I am addicted to Fear.